During the dinner at the king's palace, Rumata has a conversation with Father Gur, the poet. Rumata offers him a copy of the poets work, in exchange for a promise to write something new:

“Very well put, Father Gur. By the way, is it still possible to find your book?”

“I don’t know… And I don’t want to know.”

“Just in case, you should know: one copy is in the metropole, in the library of the emperor. Another is kept in the Museum of Curiosities in Soan. The third is with me.”

Gur spooned some jelly onto his plate with a trembling hand. “I… don’t know…” He looked at Rumata mournfully with his huge sunken eyes. “I’d like to read it… reread it…”

“I’ll be happy to lend it to you.”

“And then?”

“And then you’ll give it back.”

And then you’ll be given back!” Gur said sharply.
Hard to be a God, chapter 5. Emphasis mine.

I am confused by Father Gur's reply. In original Russian, the last two lines of the conversation are as follows (with bold part matching that in the translation):

— Потом вы вернете.

— И потом вам вернут! — резко сказал Гур.

A literal translation in this case is "And then they'll give it back to you!". While all three versions mean the same thing, I found the tone to be different, and it caused me to question the meaning of Father Gur's line.

When I read it in Russian, I assumed he was referring to future generations of poets that would be inspired by Father Gur's work. This thought of mine was prompted by an earlier line by Rumata:

“Look at your plate and keep eating. I’ll tell you who you are. You’re a brilliant storyteller, the founder of a new literary movement — the most fruitful one there is.” Gur’s cheeks slowly started to glow. “In a hundred years, and maybe even earlier, dozens of storytellers will follow in your footsteps.”
Ibid. Emphasis mine.

But then, Father Gur may be just too humble and skeptic to accept that possibility.

When reading the English translation, however, the tone suggested that Father Gur may somehow be referring to Don Reba, and persecution of artists in Arkanar, as if he was saying "And then you'll be given back [after they kill me for possessing it]!". This, I think, is supported by the line that follows immediately after:

Rumata shook his head.

“Don Reba really scared you, Father Gur.”

So which one is it? Is Father Gur telling that Rumata will be rewarded for lending Gur his book? Or is he telling that Rumata and Gur will be prosecuted for the possession of this banned work?

On a related note, today (15th of April) is the birthday of Boris Strugatsky, one of the authors of this terrific book!

3 Answers 3


The subsequent text pretty clearly provides the context; and it's the one you suggested ("after they kill me for possessing it")

— Напугал... Вам приходилось когда-нибудь жечь собственных детей? Что вы знаете о страхе, благородный дон!..
Гур Сочинитель вдруг принялся шептать так тихо, что Румата едва слышал его сквозь чавканье и гул голосов:
— А зачем все это?.. Что такое правда?.. Принц Хаар действительно любил прекрасную меднокожую Яиневнивору... У них были дети... Я знаю их внука... Ее действительно отравили... Но мне объяснили, что это ложь... Мне объяснили, что правда — это то, что сейчас во благо королю... Все остальное ложь и преступление. Всю жизнь я писал ложь... И только сейчас я пишу правду...

Scared... Did you ever have to burn your own offspring? What do you know about fear, Noble Don!..

  • What's the point of all this? ... What's the truth?... Prince Haar actually loved the beautiful Yainevor.... They had childredn... But I had it explained to me that this is a lie. I had it explained that truth - is what is currently good for the king.... Everything else is a lie and a crime. All my life I wrote lies... And only now I write the trutrh...

Note that:

  1. He discusses being afraid

  2. He persists in using anonymous 3rd tense - the unmentioned they are the ones who hold him in his power (implying of course Don Reba's people) - the same implied they in the sentence the question bolded.

Additionally, the cultural context also supports this. Anyone who grew up in USSR would immediately assume that "И потом вам вернут!" has State Security connotations as the first option.

  • I see. Thanks for pointing out that the following passage has the same tone. Apr 16, 2017 at 9:00
  • @Gallifreyan I believe that Gur is not only concerned for his own safety, but also implies that Rumata might be working for THEM, and his proposition is a trap: Gur will accept the book, THEY will arrest him, using the book as proof of guilt, and later THEY will return the book to Rumata. It stands to reason, because otherwise the book would be simply confiscated, not returned.
    – IMil
    Dec 5, 2017 at 8:29

In Russian text the word used is "вернуть" (to return) which in this context I have always understood to be intentional wordplay to the Russian ввернуть - which means among other things "to screw in" (eg a corkscrew into a cork). In part because in the book earlier there are several references to using screws and screwing motions and implements for torture. So, Gur, in my reading, is implying that Rumata will be discovered and punished. The indirect way of saying that would be typical of Soviet- style communication.


Gur is afraid of Reba. He understands that possession of such a book is a death sentence for him. In the text he is not implying that Rumata can be easily killed too: Rumata is a famous metropolitan noble, the killing of him by a vassal official (Reba) would have far reaching consequences for Arkanar. As explained later, Reba himself fears the one who claims to be Rumata.

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